More Crops Per Drop: No-Till Farming Combats Drought

Soil that is left un-tilled stays cooler and retains more moisture. Photo courtesy of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Paul Kaiser of Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm grows fruit and vegetables completely without machinery, a system he refers to as “non-mechanized, no-till.” He said goodbye to his tractor and tiller seven years ago after he felt he was unnecessarily harming wildlife, saw too many machines break down, and watched his soil quality decrease. Now,… Read More

After Mine Disaster, Alaska’s Salmon Fishermen Want Change

mine near salmon fishery

Here in Alaska, salmon season is in full swing. Fishermen are working hard and celebrating a good catch that has already topped 100 million salmon. I have been fishing here for nearly two decades, beginning alongside my father on a Bristol Bay gillnetter at 17 before getting my own boat. I’m proud to be part of an industry that feeds the world with healthy, sustainably harvested wild fish.

In the winters I’ve worked with newly emerging alliances of commercial, sport, and traditional use fishermen to safeguard our fisheries from regulations or projects that threaten to degrade Alaska’s seafood bounty and our trusted brand of clean and sustainable seafood.

Fishing is never a sure thing, and when not at the whim of mother nature, fishermen have other threats to worry about. Fishermen’s worst fears were realized in British Columbia (B.C.) on August 4. That was the day an earthen dam holding back wastewater at the Mount Polley Mine breached, sending 2000 olympic-size swimming pools (5 million cubic meters) of toxic sludge into downstream rivers and lakes. (See video footage of the destruction below).

This disaster warns of an ominous future for salmon in Alaska if we don’t take action now to protect the habitats they depend on. The timing couldn’t be worse with 1.5 million salmon from Canada’s Fraser River returning to spawn in fouled Quesnel Lake.

Only time will tell the magnitude of damage this disaster will have on one of the world’s great salmon runs. My heart goes out to the families who depend on those fish for their livelihoods and way of life.

There are a lot more mines in the works. Recently approved by the B.C. government, the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine is just one of five major ventures in the area. Fishermen, tribes and conservationists fear these mines will poison salmon-bearing rivers that begin in B.C. and flow into Southeast Alaska.

Similarly, the proposed Pebble Mine would be built on rivers that flow into Alaska’s Bristol Bay and would threaten the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. Important decisions are coming up for both proposed mines.

British Columbia Mines

While the province has given KSM the go ahead, the federal government of Canada must also approve it before it can move forward. Alaskans are voicing strong concerns about KSM and asking Canada’s government to review it much more thoroughly before rubber-stamping a project that might impact our livelihoods and way of life.

A delegation representing 40 businesses, tribes, and fishermen recently travelled to Washington, D.C. to ask Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with the Canadian federal government on their behalf. In the wake of the Mount Polley disaster, U.S. Senators from Alaska, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, also sent letters to Kerry asking him to demand a thorough investigation.

The KSM mine would be one of the largest open pit mines in the world and leave behind an estimated 2 billion tons of waste over its lifetime. That waste could wind up in the Unuk and Nass Rivers. The Unuk flows through Misty Fiords National Monument and boasts the largest runs of King Salmon in Southeast Alaska. All five species of Pacific salmon come home to its waters. The Nass is British Columbia’s third largest salmon river, producing fish caught by both Canadians and Alaskans.

Pebble Mine

The proposed Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit copper and gold mine in North America, generating billions of tons of waste.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent watershed assessment indicated that over 4,800 acres of wetlands and 94 miles of salmon streams would be destroyed or degraded as part of the mine’s normal operations. There is one more EPA comment period on the draft rules for mine waste disposal that would all but end the possibility of mining in the Bristol Bay region.

Knight Piesold Consulting, the company that built the breached waste pond dam at Mount Polley Mine is the same company on contract to design the one for Pebble Mine. Pebble proponents have frequently testified that while breaches have happened in the past, they won’t happen in modern mines. Sadly, their dam was not as strong as their words.

The deadline for submitting comments to the EPA on the Bristol Bay Watershed mine waste disposal rules is September 19th.

 

All The News That’s Fit to Eat: Jamie Oliver, GMO Labeling in Colorado, and Latino Farmers

Jamie Oliver wants to protect European meat from American growth hormones and other chemicals. Photo: Mr Pics / Shutterstock.com

It might be the end of Summer, but the food news doesn’t go fishing. Here’s what we read this week that caught our eye.

1. Don’t Let Americans Put Hormones and Pesticides in Our Dinner, Warns Jamie Oliver as He Launches Latest Food Offensive (Daily Mail)

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is publicly opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in a new campaign. Oliver points to the fact that the agreement would open the doors to sales of foods containing ingredients that are banned in the EU, such as arsenic in chicken feed, ractopamine–a common drug used to make pigs grow faster in the U.S.—and the milk-producing hormone rBST. “We don’t have hormones in our meat, that’s banned. But not over there. We don’t have hundreds of poisons and pesticides that have been proven to be carcinogenic. They do. Their laws, their set-up, their safety regulations are nowhere near ours,” he told the UK’s Daily Mail. Read More

Pregnant? Here’s Why That Tuna Sandwich Might Be a Bad Choice

tuna

In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new dietary guidelines for fish consumption. They’re very similar to the 2004 guidelines, with a few notable changes for pregnant women. The FDA kept its recommended limit of 12 ounces of fish per week for these women–but also established, for the first time, a minimum recommendation of eight ounces, saying pregnant and breastfeeding women should “eat more fish that is lower in mercury in order to gain important developmental and health benefits.” Read More

Faces and Visions of the Food Movement: Karen Washington, ‘Queen of Urban Gardening’

Karen Washingon food movement

In the early 1990s, after years of working as a physical therapist, Karen Washington noticed that many of her patients were steadily gaining weight and struggling with diabetes. She realized the people seeking treatment shared something else in common—a lack of fresh produce in their diets. The connection hit home when Washington saw her own son experience the same ailments she heard from her patients. The lifelong New Yorker and dedicated mother vowed to do better for her family and her community. Read More

Organic vs. “Organic”: How Much Does Certification Matter?

Photo by Pranav Bhatt

Whenever we go to the farmers’ market together, my husband and I disagree about whether we should buy the pricey certified organic berries (my husband’s vote) or the less expensive ones grown without certification, but described by the farm as “sustainably produced.” If I look deep into a farmer’s eyes and she tells me that her fruit is “no-spray,” I’ll buy her berries, saving almost a buck a pint. (After all, the strawberries we grow in our own backyard are not certified organic, but I feel good about eating them.)

Lately I’ve been wondering–is my husband right, or is no-spray enough? And what about the assertion—sometimes made by conventional growers—that certified organic farms use pesticides too? Read More